9 Quick Tips for a Great Family Beach Vacation

What’s not to love about a family beach trip? There’s the sand, the sun, and the sea! But there are also sunburns, unexpected rainy weather, and scary ocean waves. Here are nine quick tips for a great family beach vacation to make sure your seaside holiday is as fun-filled and mishap-free as possible.

Young girl on the beach in La Jolla, California
My daughter on the beach in La Jolla, California (Photo credit: Colleen lanin)

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1. Be wary of big waves.

Consider the size of the ocean waves before choosing your beach vacation destination. A strong undertow or large waves can be quite scary, no matter your age.

For example, big waves along Oahu’s North Shore may be great for surfing families but can be unsafe for ordinary beachgoers. Some locations, like Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, even restrict entering the water due to dangerous waves at many of their beaches, so make sure to choose a resort that allows water play.

When traveling with young children, choose a beach with manageable waves. Bay or cove beaches typically offer mellow waves and shallow water. Still, for peace of mind, you might want to bring along a life jacket for new swimmers.

Oceanview from the Big Island of Hawaii
A cove beach on the big island of Hawaii (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Choose the best type of beach for your family.

You should also consider which type of beach surface will work best for your family vacation. Soft sand beaches are great for splashing, swimming, sports, and sand play but might require more travel, depending on where you live. Meanwhile, pebble beaches like those often found in the Mediterranean can be lovely but will require water shoes and/or inflatable toys to protect sensitive feet.

Shell and sea glass beaches can be a lot of fun for collectors but might not be best for families who want to focus on swimming and sand play. The same is true of boulder or rocky beaches, where the focus is often more on examining tide pools than on water play.

With thousands of beaches worldwide, the options are seemingly endless. It’s up to you to decide which vacation destinations best meet your needs and family vacation budget. Need help narrowing it down? Read our list of the best beach resorts for families around the world.

Sand beach along the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sand beach along the Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Watch children vigilantly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 and the second most common cause of death for kids aged 5 to 14.

No matter the type of beach surface or the size of the waves, parents need to be vigilant in watching their children near water. This is true even if a lifeguard is present.

Often caregivers are lulled into thinking another adult is watching children near water, leading to drownings and near-drownings. If traveling with one or more other adults, discuss and make clear who is on child-watching duty at all times.

Drownings are silent and quick. This type of childhood death is on the rise, too, and is linked to smartphone usage. So, take this as an excuse to unplug and play with your kids or simply enjoy the view.

Little boy collection seashells at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club on a family beach vacation
My son collecting seashells at La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in California (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Pack the right beach toys.

I used to buy elaborate sand toys during our family beach trips so my kids could scoop, sieve, and build with sand. Then I could never squeeze those colorful plastic goodies into my suitcase for the trip home. Sadly for my pocketbook and our planet, I’d leave them behind at our destination.

I finally realized that children don’t need a bunch of fancy doo-dads to have a ton of sandy fun. Instead, I pack one mini-sized beach toy set for each kid. They don’t take up too much room in our luggage, and they double as travel bath toys.

Inflatable toys like a beach ball and a float ring are also easy to squeeze into baggage. Want to make a big splash at your hotel swimming pool or beach? Take a look at our picks for the best pool floats!

Children on the beach in California
My daughter and friends on the beach in San Diego, California (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Don’t dig too deep.

Also, don’t let children dig any deeper in the sand than their knees. Sandplay may seem totally harmless, but it can become dangerous quickly.

A 7-year-old girl died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in February 2024 when the sandhole she and her brother were digging collapsed. According to NPR, three to five children die from sandhole collapses in the U.S. each year, with even more kids being injured.

Children playing on the seven-mile beach at Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica
Children playing in the sand at Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Use sun protection.

Protect your whole family from the sun’s harsh rays. Swim shirts or rash guards, sun hats with wide brims, lip balm with SPF, and a beach umbrella all provide protection.

Sunblock lotion or spray is also essential for warding off sunburns. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends “Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays) SPF 30 or higher.” Mineral sunscreens protect skin with fewer chemicals.

Before you head out the door, slather the kids (and YOU!) with sunblock. Once you reach the beach, your kids will be antsy to jump in the water and it will be difficult to get them covered. Or, you might just plain forget this important step. Be sure to reapply often throughout the day, too, especially after swimming in the pool or ocean.

Erin Cusak Jones, a mom and Travel Mamas reader, was recently diagnosed with basil cell and melanoma skin cancers. Her experience with this disease has led her to become an advocate for skincare protection. She says, “If spending a full day at the beach, you should practically use an entire bottle of sunscreen (per person) if reapplying every two hours. I’ve had bottles of sunscreen last a few years, which is proof I was underusing it.”

Child applying sunscreen on the beach
Apply sunscreen throughout the day (Photo credit: shalamov, Depositphotos.com)

7. Drink lots of water and other hydrating beverages.

Staying hydrated is especially important on a family beach vacation, especially on hot days. Participating in activities like swimming, surfing, or beach volleyball can also lead to dehydration.

Stock up on bottled water, coconut water, or electrolyte-infused drinks. Bring them along on your beach excursion, and make sure kids take breaks periodically to refuel.

As for mom and dad, piña coladas and beach-side beers are tempting, but they are dehydrating. If you want to indulge in an adult beverage by the sea, be sure to rehydrate afterward. You should also limit your alcohol intake.

All-inclusive smoothies and cocktails at family-friendly resort in Costa Rica
Beach vacation drinks at Dreams Las Mareas in Costa Rica (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Bring the right beach gear.

It can be hard to remember all the things you need at the beach, especially with children. The nice thing about staying at a beachfront hotel is the ability to return to your hotel room to retrieve what you need. Items like beach chairs and umbrellas are often provided, too. And, you can usually order food and drinks right to your lounger.

If driving to the beach, be sure to pack a change of clothes for each family member to avoid soggy car seats and whiny kids. You’ll need some plastic bags to store the soggy bathing suits, too.

You don’t want to lug too much stuff, but then again, you don’t want to be stuck without essential items, either. Below are some items to consider packing for a beach day.

Family Beach Gear

  • Beach towels
  • Refillable water bottles
  • Life jackets for young kids
  • Water shoes for rocky shores
  • Snacks
  • Beach umbrella or beach tent
  • First-aid kit (for remote beaches)
  • Change of clothes
  • Foldable beach chairs
  • Sunblock
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Plastic bags for wet bathing suits and trash
  • Inner tube or other inflatable
  • Sand toys
Beautiful shell art at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida ~ Things to Do on Captiva Island and Sanibel Island
Shell art at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Scope out fun away from the beach.

Even if your beach vacation destination is usually sunny and warm, inclement weather can strike anytime. Check the weather forecast the week before your departure and pack accordingly if rain is expected. Even if clear skies are in the forecast, I suggest bringing along a couple of travel games for kids to entertain the entire family in case of unexpected stormy weather.

Before leaving home, scope out other indoor activities at your destination in case a sunburn, beach boredom, or bad weather strikes. Knowing the area’s fun activities beyond the beach will come in handy in case fair weather gods do not shine upon your holiday.

Explore options like nearby museums, aquariums, shopping malls, movie theaters, and bowling alleys. For more ideas, see my tips for Captiva and Sanibel Islands when it rains.

Henderson Point Beach in Pass Christian, MS
Henderson Point Beach along the Mississippi Gulf Coast (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore beach destinations for families.

Book an affordable beach getaway on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

From sandy beaches to luaus and more, take a look at things to do in Maui with kids.

For arcade games, mini golf, and beach play, you’ll love Myrtle Beach with kids.

Discover Southern California’s best-kept oceanfront secret with my La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club review.

Check out Surf City USA with my tips for Huntington Beach, California with kids.

9 Tips for a Great Family Beach Vacation

Save these top tips for your next beach trip!

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Do you have any questions or additional beach travel tips for kids? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. I would plan on crafts when bad bad weather strikes, you can always make something with the shells you have collected. Also go to the beach early and come in out of the heat of the day where ever you are, you can always go back out latter.

  2. best solution for sunscreen from toddlers to teens is to wear UV swimwear, available in great colours and prints, easy to dry and no risk of sun burn with long term damage.

  3. I agree with your tip about applying sunscreen before you arrive. It’s so much easier. I’m usually not a fan of spray sunscreen because it’s expensive and can discolor clothing, but it’s worth it for the beach. It’s no fun rubbing sunscreen on kids who are covered in sand.

  4. Fab list of family beach holiday tips! As many families are dreaming about and booking their winter beach holidays, these are great travel planning reminders.

  5. Great tips! We swear by SPF-factor sunshirts for our boys, especially in the water, where they spend most of their time. Waterproof sunscreeen just doesn’t last for the amount of time necessary to protect them, and the sunshirts have literally saved their skin on many a beach holiday over the years.

  6. Scope out bathrooms—especially if you’re in the process of toilet training. If there are several adults, Take turns with each having a time period to be the super vigilant one. Little–or even not so little–kids can easily wander off and on a crowded beach, and all the the blankets and chairs can look very alike. (I got lost on a beach when I was 12. I knew how to get back to our hotel,
    but the undertow had pushed me down the beach and I couldn’t find my family. I went back to our room. My parents had a very bad day.) Even if you’re at a life guarded beach, with kids under 12, I don’t think you want to be depending on the 17 year old lifeguard to be keeping a sufficient eye on your 6 year old.

  7. Great tips Colleen.
    Living in Australia it is must that we not forget to take shade: umbrella or shade tent.
    We also take fresh fruit for snacks as you get hungry playing the water and the fruit is so refreshing after being in the hot sun.

    1. Good idea, Sally! We bring our own umbrella when heading to the beach in our hometown of San Diego but there are often umbrellas for rent (or for free) at hotel/resort beaches too.